Hurricane Preparedness Experience- Part 4, by N.K.

I recommend more gas cans so you’re not constantly refilling the same two. I won’t say how many NATO cans I now have, but I won’t have that problem again. If you get NATO cans to avoid the spillage common with now-mandated CARB cans, get several extra NATO vented spouts; nothing else fits them. An assortment of funnels is handy, too. For vehicle filling, extend the NATO spouts with 1/2” steel or brass press-on nipples (the galvanized steel is less expensive and works fine and I’d avoid the plastic versions) from Lowe’s plumbing department and about 16” of 5/8” ID / 3/4” OD clear plastic tubing. The tubing fits perfectly into unleaded gasoline filler necks and extends the reach of the spout for different vehicles. I secured the nipple-to-spout and nipple-to-tubing connections with a wrap of steel safety wire, tightly twisted. It’s pretty secure without it, but the last thing I need is the spout extension coming loose unnoticed and sliding into the filler neck. I equipped every NATO spout I have with the extension. It’s a $3 fix, and I don’t have to look for the right spout to fit a vehicle; they’re all the right spout.

A bug-out plan. Our house wasn’t severely damaged, none in our area were, so we never considered evacuating. Quite a few houses to our south were, however, mostly from roof sections missing, allowing water intrusion and requiring lots of blue tarps and in many cases alternative living quarters. When the ceiling gets waterlogged and collapses into the living area, it’s tough to live there. If we had to evac I didn’t have a plan on where to go and what to do with the stuff in the house. After a discussion with my insurance agent, I now have that plan. Make sure your policy adequately covers temporary relocation, and it doesn’t hurt to touch base with the local Red Cross folks to get some names and phone numbers, just in case. Check with your church to see what assistance resources they may have and join whatever assistance team your church has, or help start one. The best way to learn what help is needed and how to get it is to give that help and be part of delivering it for others. Whether it’s a hurricane, a fire, or a flood, your brain will be overloaded, and the entire family will be stressed. If someone else can help with the “decision overload” during the first 48 hours, do take advantage of that resource.

This ties into documentation. Critical paperwork, such as insurance info and things like birth certificates, vehicle titles, et cetera, need to be scanned and stored electronically on multiple media. Having the originals in a bank safe deposit box is a good idea, but if there’s no electricity, the bank won’t be open. You can have certified copies made, but that’s usually not necessary. Clean, readable copies almost always are sufficient. One set in paper, the others can be electronic. Make sure you store the electronic scans in a format and on media that can easily be read. Adobe PDF is the current gold standard for scanned documents, and CDs and DVDs are more reliable than memory sticks, but you need scans on both, because sticks are more convenient. Every PC now has at least one USB port, but it may not have a CD/DVD drive. The CDs, DVDs, and memory sticks need to be kept securely, because the data on them won’t be encrypted. Why not encrypt it? You may not be in control of what device is available to read it; a PC at the public library surely won’t have your favorite encryption program on it, and you can bet they won’t let you download and install it. A laminated wallet card with critical phone numbers is a very good idea. A national email account, such as gmail or yahoo, has some value because an account with a local ISP (Internet Service Provider) may be unavailable if that ISP is in the no-power zone. Be aware of security issues, however, with accounts such as those.

There’s an old engineer’s joke, or maybe it’s a joke about old engineers, but when employees ran into the Chief’s office yelling about a giant meteor due to strike earth in 24 hours and wipe out all life, the senior guy just pointed to his bookcase and said “top shelf, blue binder, section 4”. That may be a bit extreme, but maintaining planning documentation, reviewing it, and keeping it updated as you learn things and obtain prep supplies is important. As attorneys say, “if it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.” In the stress of a disaster or emergency, you will get “suddenly stupid”; having a written resource, especially checklists, to guide you is invaluable until you can mentally adjust.

Cash. No electricity means no credit, debit cards, or cash registers. Often, having exact money or close to it may be the only way to buy necessary items. I’d suggest keeping at least $500 in cash handy (and well secured), no larger than $20 bills. Go heavy on $5s and $10s. $50-$60 should be in ones, and have a roll or two of quarters for pay phones. (Be aware that many pay phones have their ringers disconnected to prevent them from being used to support illegal activities, so getting a call back on that number may be a problem.) Separate your cash among several pockets when you’re out. Pulling out $75-$100 in $5s and $10s where people might glimpse it is safer than someone seeing all $500, and in the event of a robbery you can better prevent losing everything. Put a few $1 bills on both the outside and the inside of your stack of bills when you fold the money. That way all the folded cash looks like $1 bills from either side.

Speaking of phones, the one thing that never stopped working was the land line telephone. No electricity means no cell connection, because at least some of the towers will be down, and Internet phones were useless as well. You may be able to connect if you drive a few miles to where there’s power, but if the outage is widespread that could be a long drive. Many people no longer have land line phones. That’s more reason to stay engaged with your neighbors; if one has a land line, they might wind up being a neighborhood communication hub. A good neighborhood plan would be for neighbors to chip in for the monthly cost of one land line with unlimited long distance, an inexpensive phone, and a 100 ft phone cord. The neighbor with the land line could put the “community phone” on a porch for everyone to use.

Lighting. I like the D-cell Maglites, and I have them all over the house now in wall brackets and in each vehicle. A glance confirms the flashlight is there or not, the brackets provide a proper place to keep the light, and pointed up in the bracket they can be turned on and reflected light from the ceiling is more than enough to navigate around the house. The brackets are all adjacent to doorways, on the knob side, making it easy to find lights in the dark. To make sure they always have good batteries, I use Amazon Subscribe and Save for Amazon’s Basics batteries: a 12-pack of D batteries arrives every third month to replace the batteries in four flashlights or LED lanterns. A tip: For your first couple S&S orders, get two 12-packs of D-cells; set one aside each time and date them when they arrive. The second quarter’s S&S order gives you two 12-packs on the shelf. Deliveries after that can be just one 12-pack; that way you always have at least a couple dozen fresh spare batteries on hand. When you start using flashlights and LED lanterns for several days, you’ll need those extra batteries. I’ve numbered the flashlights and lanterns and do them in order, so every flashlight and D-cell lantern gets new batteries once a year. Streamlight Siege lanterns are super, lasting days and days on the lowest setting; look for them on sale. There are less expensive LED lanterns that will work quite well, too. Get some attractive bathroom robe hooks from the home center and put them in strategic places. They’re great for hanging LED lanterns, and devising a hook arrangement to hang a lantern from the family room ceiling fan above head height isn’t a bad idea, either.

We’re in the “thinking” stages for a major remodel, when I’ll add a transfer switch to allow connecting the generator, and add a new receptacle in each room on one circuit so I can provide generator power to each room, in addition to the usual fridge, freezer, and furnace circuits. All of the ceiling fans will be on one circuit in the transfer switch, too. As I mentioned earlier, solar will get added as well.

Furnaces. We’re no longer in Florida, so I converted my present house from heat pump only to heat pump + natural gas by adding a furnace. (Heating wasn’t a concern in Florida.) I’d need a pretty big 240-volt generator to run my heat pump, but my gas furnace, including the blower, runs on 115 volts and consumes only 865 watts. That’s a light load for my 3000 watt Honda, and I can even run it on my 2000 watt Honda. The thermostat selects heat pump or gas furnace based on outside temperature, but I can also select “furnace only” manually. As long as natural gas is flowing and my generator runs, we can avoid huddling around the fireplace in winter. I also have the conversion parts to switch the furnace to propane; I’d need a gas furnace technician to safely install them and make the hookup to the 200-gallon backyard propane tank, but having the conversion parts on hand is most of the battle. Yes, the 3000 watt and 6500 watt generators now run on either gasoline or propane. In the planning stage is a small wood stove, but that’s going to be part of the major remodel; good hardwood for burning is rare in Florida but not in my new location.

That’s pretty much our Excellent Hurricane Adventure. The take-away is “plan, practice, and organize.” Lay out a written plan and practice it. Pick a weekend to turn the power off Friday afternoon for “indoor camping weekends” (everything but the fridge and freezer), and use the family Sunday dinner to discuss what worked and what didn’t. You’ll be surprised on both counts.